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FLORIDA BECOMES THE HARSHEST STATE FOR SEX OFFENDERS

Florida toughens laws detaining sex offenders indefinitely for crimes they haven't yet committed

In Arcadia, a town of 6,000 east of Sarasota, there's a facility wrapped in sky-high barbed wire, where no one can choose to get in or out. This isn't a prison, and its residents aren't serving a sentence. It's the Florida Civil Commitment Center, home to 650 men whom the state fears could molest, assault or rape again if released.

"A lot of people try to take themselves out while they're in there," said David, who spent 4 1/2 years in Arcadia, and asked that we conceal his identity. "I've seen it, blood all over the place, walking down the hall with a razor, cutting themselves up."

In Florida, it's legal to lock someone up indefinitely for a crime they haven't yet committed. Called civil commitment, it's similar to forcing a severely mentally ill person into treatment. But this process is reserved for those who were convicted of violent sexual offenses, completed their sentences, but then were judged to still be a risk. Over the past two decades, the practice has spread across the country and is now law in 20 states, plus Washington, D.C. and the federal government.

This week, the civil commitment process was expanded to include offenders serving time in jail. And given certain findings, a state attorney is now required to refer a person to civil commitment, and a judge is required to order a person into civil commitment custody. It's part of a bundle of new laws that has made the state the harshest one in the country for sex offenders.

David served nine years in prison for rape. He said the woman was his ex-girlfriend and his drug dealer, that he was framed and then took a plea deal on his lawyer's advice. When his term was finished, the state recommended that they proceed with a civil commitment hearing, and David was driven to Arcadia. When he finally got his trial, 4 1/2 years later, a jury determined that he wasn't a threat, and released him.

David said the experience was worse than prison. "It's like a living death sentence," he said. "You just function from one day to the next."

Continue to full article  by Eliana Salzhauer, Aljazeera America

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